I have a confession to make. I had no idea where Ottawa was or that it was Canada’s capital until I felt the nudge to visit. So I looked it up and, low and behold, it was in a perfect location to stop by on our tour through a bit of Ontario and Quebec. And I must say we thoroughly enjoyed our quick visit.
Actually both the man child and I were totally impressed with Canada, except maybe the fuel prices, which were a good 50% higher than what we are paying at our home in the Midwest. But adventure is out the door and not here, so it is worth the price of fuel. Besides, with a Class B RV you don’t worry about hotel rooms or eating out constantly, so fuel is really the biggest expense.
We left our visit to Old Montreal (Blog post here: http://wp.me/p4VhkU-k) and headed toward Ottawa. Only 200 kilometers (124 miles) to the west, this town was easy to arrive at. We were surprised there were no rest stops between Montreal and Ottawa on Highway 417 (The Trans Canada Hwy), as we had been thoroughly spoiled on our trip to Montreal, but the gas stations were plentiful. We also located a Tim Horton’s, and, I am so sorry Canada if Tim Horton’s defines who you are, but we loved them. I am convinced in 20 years as man child looks back on his Canadian spring break trip, it’s going to be with a fondness colored by Tim Horton’s doughnuts.
For those new to traveling Canada, make a note that you’ll want to fill up in Ontario where gas is much cheaper than Quebec. By a lot actually! We noted a difference of about 20 cents a liter, which equates to about 75 cents per gallon.
We travel very spontaneously and I had my eye out for a place for us to boondock as we drove into and through Ottawa. I am new at this game, boondocking and traveling with your bed in your van, so I am constantly balancing looking for a safe looking area to park overnight along with our need for a restroom before we head to bed, the van being winterized at this point. Push come to shove it wouldn’t be the end of the world to use the toilet in the van, but, given this is our first year with our Roadtrek, I am still really unfamiliar with the systems.
My happiness in arriving turned to shear joy when I spotted an Ikea just off the Highway 417 in Napean. Living in the Midwest, we only see these as we traverse big cities, so stopping is a given. Plus I have an older daughter who just moved into her own apartment with a birthday coming up, so it was a win-win situation: Mom shops and knocks a birthday gift off the list. Plus I had heard that Ikeas are often friendly to overnight camping and thought we could ask if we decided to stay. But I really became elated when I realized my American dollar was worth more, at this juncture, so everything was going to come with a discount. WooHoo! This turned out to be the first of two visits – another one made on our way out of town – to outfit the van with a mattress that can be rolled up when not traveling. Our bed just went from suitable to comfortable and it was worth the money. We passed on staying the night at this Ikea as it was right next to the highway and we didn’t want highway noise all night.
In the end we realized we were about 10 minutes from a hotel, free courtesy of Dad’s hotel points, and as it had been 3 days with no shower and we really needed some do some laundry, this was probably the best option. Additionally everything was turning to ice on the roads as an icy drizzle started, which later turned into two inches of snow, and if seemed like we just needed to be off the roads for the night. All in all it was a good night to stop. I did notice the large back parking lot of our hotel as we pulled out the next morning and thought that might come in handy if we needed a second night in Ottawa.
The next morning we were out the door to visit Parliament Hill. Coincidentally this was a Sunday but we discovered that is the perfect time to go. Street parking was free and we quickly secured a spot just about 4 blocks from Parliament Hill on Albert Street in front of another Tim Horton’s (doughnuts not sampled this day). We parked and walked over to Wellington St. amazed that in a major city there is still free parking downtown. Parking restrictions seemed geared to Monday through Friday during work hours so this could actually have been a good boondocking site during the weekend, anywhere along the city streets south of Parliament Hill.
This was the highlight of our visit to Ottawa. I was amazed that the visit to Parliament Hill was free. Tickets are now available at Parliament Hill itself (not across the street as shown on their website). I thought their system was super efficient – you show up and can get tickets to upcoming tours at the hour convenient for you, provided they still have them.
We arrived too late to see the changing of the guard at Parliament Hill (9:45 am) but early enough to still get tickets for the day. Note you’ll go through double security to get in and the size of bags is restricted, but we checked through easily enough. While waiting for your tour, there is plenty to see and do. We took the elevator up to the Peace Tower. It took about 20 minutes of waiting (on a cold March day so add to this if you are going during peak times), but eventually we made it to the front of the line and were sent up an elevator to an observation area high up in the tower of the Parliament building. From here you can see all of Ottawa, plus across the Ottawa River into Quebec. There were interesting historical facts posted throughout the tower and it gave you a great view of the various parts of the Parliament building and the grounds. We also saw the U.S. Embassy from up high.
After we were done viewing, we took the elevator down and then entered the Memorial Chamber, which houses the Books of Remembrance bearing the names of all those who have perished in the wars Canada has fought in since confederation in 1867. Each morning at 11 am a page is turned in each book so that each name is seen at least once in the year. The Chamber was beautiful and a fitting tribute to those who have died in their nation’s defense. We spent a good deal of time looking at each book and the year it was completed. Man child was intent on locating a family name, as family on his dad’s side came out of Quebec in the 1800’s. No similar names were found and I just enjoyed looking at the beautiful calligraphy and wondered how much time it had taken to prepare each book.
After we viewed the books, we went back downstairs to await our tour time. I will say I really loved listening to the young tour guides switch back and forth between flawless English and flawless French. Some had slight accents, but all were fully functional in English and, I imagine, French also. After two years of high school French I can only conjugate one French verb and am not fully functional. I redeemed myself in later years with Spanish, which was so helpful in figuring things out on this trip, since both have the same language roots.
The tour ran about 50 minutes and took us by the Commons chambers, into the Library of Parliament and then into the Senate chambers. The architecture is stunning, at least to us Americans, and reminded the man child and I we have yet to see Europe. The tour was highly informative and gave so much information about how government works in Canada. It was even fun to see the large chairs with red velvet for the Governor General and his spouse and imagine them sitting in them, as the Queen in absentia, presiding over the working of government in Canada. Okay, so maybe that a little fanciful, but it was grand to see and hear how it all works for our Northern neighbors.
We lunched in our van after leaving the tour, still parked in the same spot downtown, as there are no hour restrictions on the weekend and then made our way to an ice skating rink man child had spotted from way up high when we were on the observation deck. He wanted to skate. While the Sens Rink of Dreams was free, there were no skates to rent.. We watched the families skating while sitting in front of Ottawa City Hall and then made our way over the Laurier St. bridge to see the Rideau Canal, also a skate way and an UN World Heritage site. Unfortunately, it had closed for the season as the ice had started to melt so there wasn’t much to see here.
About this point it was time to warm up and Mom noticed a shopping mall so we headed off that way, arriving at Rideau Shopping Centre just as the stores were starting to close. But it was nice and warm inside and packed with people on this chilly Sunday. We thought about getting haircuts at the salon spotted in the mall but the quote of $30 for the man child and $60 for mom, even with the great Canadian to American dollar exchange rate, was far more than we normally pay.
With that we headed back to our van and thus ended our visit to Ottawa that day. Driving out of Canada on Highway 416, we were surprised to see we were just one hour away from upper New York State. We tracked the Rideau River down, as our highway paralleled this waterway, and it was fun to relive the small geography and history lesson we had gotten on our Parliamentary tour and think of all those people in history that had followed this waterway into the United States. Not so different from us, all these years later, following a highway down in our Roadtrek.